Thursday, February 11, 2016

Arctic shipping passage 'still decades away'

Russia, Europe and the shipping industry have been waiting
for a major ice-free shipping lane to open through the Arctic.
Photograph: Sergio Pitamitz/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis

From The Guardian by John Vidal

Ordinary merchant ships will not be able to take an ice-free shortcut from China to Europe until at least 2040, report predicts

It will be decades before big cargo ships link China and northern Europe by taking a shortcut through the Arctic Ocean, a report predicts.
Climate change, retreating summer ice and the prospect of shorter journey times and 40% lower fuel costs has led Russia, European governments and some industries to expect a major ice-free shipping lane to open above Russia, allowing regular, year-long trade between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans within a few years.


But, says the Arctic Institute in a new paper, low bunker fuel prices, a short sailing season and continuing treacherous ice conditions in the Arctic even in summer months means it could be 2040 at the earliest before it is commercially viable for ordinary merchant ships to pass through what is known as the northern sea route.
Until then it will remain cheaper to send trade between Europe and the east via the Suez canal, it says.


The conclusions of the report were backed this month by the powerful Danish Shipowners’ Association, which includes 40 major shipping companies such as Maersk, the world’s largest. Denmark has the eighth largest fleet in the world and would stand to gain the most in Europe if the northern sea route opened.
“We have gone from hyper-optimism to total realism. The world economy was developed on the basis of a high oil price. The northern sea route seemed viable [a few years ago] but now it’s not the case. The route has vast potential but it will take a long time to open up,” said Anne H. Steffensen, director of the association at a meeting of Arctic country ministers and industry in Tromsø.

Russia has tried to open up the Arctic to international traffic by offering icebreaker service and better port facilities.
But cargo in transit along the northern sea route dropped from 1.3m tonnes in 2013 to 300,000 tonnes in 2014.
Last year only 100,000 tonnes was transported between Asia and Europe on the route.
However, there was a big rise in the number of vessels going to and from Russian Arctic ports.


The Arctic Institute report, which compares the costs of building ice-reinforced ships suitable for the northern sea route, to existing costs of using the Suez canal, includes fuel prices, wait times, lengths of journey, canal fees and different sea conditions.
It concludes that trade is unlikely to open up the northern route for decades.

It expects the Arctic sea ice to be too thick and treacherous for many years, requiring expensive ice breakers and strengthened hulls.
“The Arctic navigation season is currently too short and ice conditions are too unpredictable for liner shipping to be feasible. Arctic liner shipping will only become a viable alternative to the contemporary shipping lanes if global warming continues to melt the ice cover along the North-west passage and the Northern sea route.
“It is highly unlikely that large-scale containerised cargo transports will appear in the near future. The question then arises: when, if ever, will the ice conditions allow for continuous and economically feasible container transport along the route?”


The greatest potential for the use of ice-reinforced container ships was found if the speed of global warming increased and the price of fuel is high.
But even in this scenario, the cost per container was about 10% higher than going via the Suez canal route.
Scientists have predicted that ordinary vessels would be able travel easily along the northern sea route, and moderately ice-strengthened ships should be able to pass over the pole itself by 2050.
Russian authorities still sees a bright future for shipping along its northern shoreline, but not as a busy international shipping route.
“It is 100% sure that the northern sea route will be no alternative to the Suez Canal,” Russia’s deputy minister of transport, Viktor Olersky, told the Arctic Circle 2015 assembly.

Holland America Line, cruise liner for penguins (but in Antarctica)

Unusually high temperatures in January led to January seeing the lowest recorded extent of sea ice in the satellite record.
The ice extent averaged 13.53 million square kilometres (5.2 million square miles), which is 1.04 million sq km (402,000 sq m) below the 1981 to 2010 average, according to the US government’s National Snow and Ice Data Centre.

Links :

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Measuring ocean heating is key to tracking global warming

Sun shining over the sea.
Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

From The Guardian by John Abraham

Taking the Earth’s temperature is a challenge, but a critically important one if we are to better understand the nature of climate change

Human emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are causing the Earth to warm.
We know this, and we have known about the heat-trapping nature of these gases for over 100 years.
But scientists want to know how fast the Earth is warming and how much extra energy is being added to the climate because of human activities.

If you want to know about global warming and its future effects, you really need to answer these questions.
Whether this year was hotter than last year or whether next year breaks a new record are merely one symptom of a warming world.
Sure, we expect records to be broken, but they are not the most compelling evidence.

The most compelling evidence we have that global warming is happening is that we can measure how much extra heat comes in to the Earth’s climate system each year.
Think of it like a bank account.
Money comes in and money goes out each month.
At the end of the month, do you have more funds than at the beginning?
That is the global warming analogy.
Each year, do we have more or less energy in the system compared to the prior year?

The answer to this question is clear, unassailable and unequivocal: the Earth is warming because the energy is increasing.
We know this because the heat shows up in our measurements, mainly in the oceans.
Indeed the oceans take up more than 92% of the extra heat.
The rest goes into melting Arctic sea ice, land ice, and warming the land and atmosphere.
Accordingly, to measure global warming, we have to measure ocean warming.
Results for 2015 were recently published by Noaa and are available here.


A recent paper by Karina von Schuckmann and her colleagues appeared in Nature Climate Change, and provides an excellent summary of our knowledge of the energy balance of the Earth and recent advances that have been made.
The article describes the complexity of the situation.
The Earth is continuously gaining energy from greenhouse gases, but there are also natural fluctuations that cause both increases and decreases to the energy flows.

For instance, volcanic eruptions may temporarily reflect some solar energy back to space.
Natural variability like the El Niño/La Niña cycle can change heat flows and how deep the heat is buried in the ocean.
The energy from the sun isn’t constant either; it varies on an 11-year cycle, but by less than 0.01%.
With all of this and more happening, how do we know if an energy imbalance is natural or human caused?
How do we separate these effects?

The effort to separate human from natural effects is seen to be possible when one considers how the imbalance is measured in the first place.
There are multiple complementary ways to make these measurements.
Each technique has advantages and disadvantages and they have to be considered together.

One way is through satellites that orbit the Earth.
These satellites can measure the heat entering the atmosphere and the heat leaving the system.
The difference between them is the imbalance.
Currently, the longest operating satellite measurement for this is from Nasa and is named Ceres (Clouds and Earth’s Radiation Energy System).
The difficulty is that the energy imbalance is only about 0.1% of the actual energy flows in and out, and while the changes can be tracked, their exact values are uncertain.

Another way to measure the imbalance is to actually take the ocean’s temperature.
Temperature tells us how much heat a system has. If the temperature is increasing, it means the energy within the system is increasing as well – the system is out of balance.
Not only do we have to measure the ocean temperatures accurately, but there is a need to measure the temperatures year after year after year exceedingly accurately to much better than a 0.1°C margin.
What really matters is how the temperature is changing over long periods of time.

While it may sound easy to measure the oceans, it is actually quite challenging.
The oceans are huge (and deep) and difficult to access.
The need is for enough measurement locations at enough depths and with enough precision to get an accurate temperature.

 Argo Program: Deep sea probes (drifters) drift with ocean currents at a depth of around 2000 meters, surface every ten days and send their data on temperature and salinity to satellites. Afterwards they sink down again into the "tranquil depths".
The probes area part of the international ARGO program and measure the upper 2000 meters of the Earth's oceans.
The data is used by scientists, fishers and the military, for example for research on climate change, prediction of the seasons and "ocean weather".

In recent years, we have relied upon a system of automated ocean measurement devices called the Argo fleet.
These devices are scattered across the globe and they autonomously rise and sink (down to 2,000 meters) and record temperatures and salinity during their travels.
Because of the Argo fleet, we know a lot more about our oceans, and this new knowledge helps us ask better questions.
But the fleet could be made even better.
They do not measure the bottom half of the ocean (below 2,000m depth) and they do not fully cover regions near or under ice or near shores.

 Argo buoy

Furthermore, a 10-year trend is much too short to make long-term climate conclusions.
We have to stitch Argo temperatures to other instruments, which have been measuring the oceans for decades.
That stitching process has to be done carefully so that a false cooling or warming trend is not introduced.

Another way is through ocean levels.
As the oceans warm, the water expands and sea levels rise.
So, just by measuring the changing water levels, it is possible to assess how much heat the oceans are absorbing.
The drawback to this method is that oceans are also rising because ice around with world is melting, particularly in Greenland and Antarctica.
As this melted ice water flows into the oceans, it too causes sea levels to rise.
So, it’s important to separate how much of ocean level rise is from heat-expansion and how much is from ice melting.

And another way is through the use of climate models, which are computer simulations of the environment.
Very powerful computers are used to calculate the state of the climate at millions of locations across the globe, in both the oceans and in the atmosphere.
The calculations use basic physics and thermodynamics equations to track the thermal energy at each of the locations.

 When CO2 rises, wet and wild planets may lose their oceans to space. (see Nature)
(demabg/iStock)

So, there are many ways to measure the Earth’s energy imbalance.
While all methods are telling us the Earth has a fever, they differ in details and better synthesis of all the information is essential to improve the knowledge of what Earth’s energy imbalance is.
Right now, the Earth is gaining perhaps as much as 1 Watt of heat (a Joule per second) for every square meter of surface area.
Considering how large the Earth is, this is an incredible amount of heat being gained day and night year after year.
This is over 1 zettaJoules (sextillion Joules) per year.

What I like about this new paper is the recommendations for the future.
Perhaps the most important recommendation is that we need to continue to make accurate measurements of the Earth’s temperatures, especially in the oceans.
We need to extend those temperate measurements to deeper locations (below 2,000 m) and make measurements near shores, in the Polar Regions, underneath ice, etc.
This will require a sustained funding of our measurement systems and a long-term view of the Earth’s changing climate.

Fully understanding where the excess heat is going in the Earth system is a first step to making good predictions as to what its consequences are for the future climate and the oceans.
It is an essential activity to enable planning for the future. Dr von Schuckmann summarized her work nicely when she told me, 
"Advancing our capability to monitor the Earth’s Energy Imbalance means increasing our knowledge on the status of global climate change - and the global ocean plays a crucial role. A concerted multi-disciplinary and international effort is needed to improve our ability to monitor this fundamental metric defining global warming."

Links :

    Tuesday, February 9, 2016

    The truth about politics and cartography: mapping claims to the Arctic seabed

    New Arctic map, with August 2015 Russian claims shown in pale yellow.

    From The Conversation

    While maps can certainly enlighten and educate, they can just as easily be used to support certain political narratives.
    With this in mind, Durham University’s Centre for Borders Research (IBRU) has updated its map showing territorial claims to the Arctic seabed following a revised bid submitted by Russia to the United Nations on August 4.
    The decision to release the map was not made lightly.
    The map of “Maritime jurisdiction and boundaries in the Arctic region” by IBRU depicts the claims to Arctic seabed resources that have been made, or could potentially be made, by Canada, Denmark, Russia, Norway, and the USA.
    In addition, IBRU has also created a simplified map showing the old and new Russian claims from 2001 and 2015 – and the differences between them.

    The myth of a “Cold War”

    We created our first Arctic map in 2008 to dispel reports that the region was about to erupt in a “new Cold War”.
    As the map’s notes explain, nothing could be further from truth.
    Since 2001, Arctic states have been engaging in scientific research – often in cooperation with each other – to gather the data that would enable them to make submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).

     BRU map comparing the 2001 and 2015 Russian claim areas.
    Areas in green are in the 2015 claim only. Areas in red are in the 2001 claim only.
    Areas in pale yellow are in both claims. 
    Author provided


    The CLCS is empowered by the UN to assess whether areas of the seabed meet a complicated series of bathymetric and geological criteria which can permit coastal states to claim exclusive rights to the non-living resources of the seabed, beyond 200 nautical miles from coastal baselines.
    The original Arctic map denoted the maximum claims that could be made given the scientific data that was then publicly available.
    The map’s accompanying notes clearly stated, however, that these were hypothetical maximums and that the actual extent of each state’s extended continental shelf would likely be reduced once more data were gathered.
    States around the world have been making these submissions, with some 77 filed to date for seas ranging from Oceania to the Caribbean.
    The CLCS has reached decisions on about a quarter of them.
    In the Arctic, Norway’s submission has been approved, Denmark’s is under review, Canada’s is being prepared, and Russia has just deposited a revised submission after its original 2001 submission was returned with a request for more detailed scientific evidence.
    The United States is the sole Arctic state frozen out of the process because it has failed to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

    The new Russian claim adds two new areas and subtracts one from the original 2001 claim.
    In total, it adds about 103,000 square kilometres to what had been a claim of 1,325,000 square kilometres.
    The new Russian claim crosses into the Canadian and Danish sides of the North Pole for the first time. While this may have symbolic impact (especially for Canadians and Danes), it has no legal significance.
    In short, little is actually happening on the international seabed – in the Arctic or elsewhere – other than states using science to claim the limited economic rights that are reserved for them by international law.
    These filings should therefore be celebrated as reaffirmations of the will toward peace and stability, rather than feared as unilateral acts of aggression.
    All too often, however, states’ CLCS filings have been interpreted as territorial “land grabs” (or, more correctly, “sea grabs”).
    The most recent Russian claim has been met with a predictable round of defensive sabre rattling.
    The IBRU map may inadvertently aid this impression.
    Solid lines and bright colours imply that vast areas of ocean are being claimed by individual states as sovereign territory, while overlapping areas appear as spaces where conflict already exists.
    News stories that reprint the map rarely include the notes that explain what its colours and shadings actually mean.
    The medium of the map – which appears to communicate a world of states “owning” territory and keeping others out – has in some senses overtaken the message of states working together.

    The Russians are coming … or are they?

    In the context of Russia’s expansion into non-Arctic territories (notably in Crimea), the revised Russian claim has struck the media as another tale of Russian expansion. Provocative headlines noted that, with the filing, “Russia claims North Pole for itself” in a “Move to seize oil and gas rights”.
    Having drawn the revised map, IBRU had a difficult decision: Do we issue a new map and potentially add fuel to this misleading narrative or do we wait for the story to die down so that lawyers, diplomats and scientists can work quietly with the data?
    We soon reached a conclusion that, even when they misinform, maps provide an opportunity for education.
    Therefore, IBRU chose to release not just the revised version of the general map, but also the second map showing the difference between the two Russian claims.
    Recent cartographic theorists have stressed that maps are not the static representations that they purport to be.
    Rather, they are living documents that are remade with each reading.
    In one reading, the IBRU Arctic map may “prove” that there is a “scramble for the Arctic”.
    But the map may also be read as testament to the world’s commitment to the rule of law and the orderly settlement of disputes.
    The stories within – and about – the IBRU Arctic map illustrate not just how we think about the Arctic and its resources, but also how we think about the map as a tool of science, politics, and law.

    Links :

    Monday, February 8, 2016

    USCG: Guidance on the use of Electronic Charts and Publications

    Official nautical raster charts from original material coming from international Hydrographic Offices displayed online with mobile marine planning applications (W4D screenshot) and GeoGarage platform

    The US Coast Guard has issued a Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) providing USCG marine inspectors and the maritime industry with uniform guidance regarding what the Coast Guard policy regarding use of electronic charts and publications in lieu of paper charts, maps, and publications.

    As per reference, US flagged vessels may maintain in electronic format the navigation publications required by 33 C.F.R § §
    • 164.33 (Charts and publications),
    • 164.72 (Navigational-safety equipment, charts or maps, and publications required on towing vessels) and 161.4 (Requirement to carry the rules)
    • and SOLAS Chapter V Regulation 27 (Nautical charts and nautical publications). 

    The following guidance applies to US flagged vessels subject to US domestic chart 9or map) and publication carriage requirements codified in Titles 33 and 46 of the C.F.R and provides a voluntary equivalency to comply with those requirements

    Click to read USCG NVIC 01-16

    Extracts :

    "Due to the current state of technology, the Coast Guard believes that official electronic charts provide substantially more information to the mariner, and therefore may enhance navigational safety beyond that of official paper charts.
    Official electronic charts, when displayed on electronic charting systems (with integrated systems such as Electronic Positing-Fixing Devices, Automatic Identification System, gyro, radar), can provide the mariner with substantially more navigational information than a paper chart. These enhancements better facilitate voyage planning and monitoring and thus may reduce the potential for marine accidents."

    Links :

    New Air Force satellites launched to improve GPS

     Final 12th GPS II satellite goes into orbit as Air Force gets ready for GPS III

    From Techcrunch

    Last Friday, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched a Boeing-built satellite into orbit as part of the U.S. Air Force’s Global Positioning System (GPS).

    This $131 million satellite was the final addition to the Air Force’s most recent 12-satellite GPS series, known as the Block IIF satellites.

    GPS satellites are operated by the Air Force and provide global positioning, navigation and timing services both for the military and civilian users.
    We can all access GPS from our phones because of this very constellation.

    Back in 1978, the first GPS satellite was launched into orbit.
    Since then, the Air Force has improved their satellite design and released new versions of GPS satellites in blocks.
    Starting with Block I, the Air Force has moved through Block IIA, Block IIR, Block IIR-M, and today they’ve completed the launch of their Block IIF series.

    While only 30 GPS satellites are currently operational, 50 have been launched in total.
    The most recent group of Block IIF satellites were launched between May of 2010 and today.

    Col. Steve Whitney, the director of the Global Positioning System Directorate, said that the last leg of launches had “one of the most aggressive launch schedules of the last 20 years.”
    There were 7 Block IIF satellites launched in just over 21 months.


    The GPS Block IIF satellites were launched to improve the accuracy of GPS. Col. Steve Whitney, the director of the Global Positioning System Directorate, said that before the Block IIF series, the accuracy of GPS could be off by 1 meter.
    With the new Block IIF satellites in place that error is down to 42 centimeters.

    The change won’t mean much to the average civilian, but it could mean the difference between life and death for the military who uses GPS to guide munition to specific targets.

    In order to make room for today’s satellite, the Air Force will move one of the older Block IIA satellites that was launched in 1990 out of its orbit.
    Impressively, the satellite is still operational and will continue to serve the GPS constellation as a back-up satellite.

    Now that Block IIF is up and running, the Air Force will shift its focus to the next series of Block III satellites for the GPS-3 constellation.
    Block III satellites will continue to improve the accuracy and reliability of GPS navigation and will have upgraded anti-jamming and security capabilities for military signals.

    Maintaining an up-to-date fully functioning GPS is pertinent to national security.
    For these reasons, selecting a company to launch these assets is an important decision.
    There’s been some controversy recently over which company (ULA or SpaceX) should launch the Air Force’s next block of satellites.
    The decision has not yet been made.

    The first GPS 3 satellites are scheduled to be launched in 2018.

    Link :

    Sunday, February 7, 2016

    Watch all of 2015’s weather in super high-def

     This visualisation, comprised of imagery from the geostationary satellites of EUMETSAT, NOAA and the JMA, shows an entire year of weather across the globe during 2015, with audio commentary from Mark Higgins, Training Manager at EUMETSAT.

    From ClimateCentral by Brian Kahn 

    Another year of wild weather is behind us. But thanks to EUMETSAT, you can now relive it in amazing high-definition video from space.
    The new visualization uses geostationary satellite data from EUMETSAT, the Japan Meteorological Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to stitch together 365 days of data into one stunning highlight reel of 2015’s weather.
    And what a year it was. You’ll definitely want to keep your eye on the tropics throughout the animation as the northern hemisphere set a record for the most major tropical cyclones to form in a year.
    Around the 6:30 mark, you can see the evolution of Hurricane Joaquin, the strongest Atlantic hurricane of 2015. It went from a tropical depression in late September to a Category 4 storm that battered the Bahamas and menaced the East Coast before steering all the way across the Atlantic and plowing into the U.K.

     

    The transition of Hurricane Joaquin near the Bahamas to an extratropical storm that hit the U.K.
    Hurricane Patricia became the strongest hurricane ever recorded in October and at the 6:55 mark, you can see it quickly slam into Mexico’s west coast before heading inland to inundate parts of Texas.

    But beyond the highlights, there’s also yearly the ebb and flow of weather on our fair planet. During the southern Amazon’s rainy season, which last from December-April, you can see clouds pop up almost daily to spread rains across the region.
    Clouds become far less plentiful during the region’s dry season.

    And more broadly, you can see weather patterns flow across continents and oceans.
    Today’s storm in the Southeast U.S. is next week’s rain in Spain.
    By putting together a global view of our planet, EUMETSAT’s video shows how our atmosphere is the common tie that binds humanity together.
    There have been a few things updated since last year’s version.
    For one, EUMETSAT has cranked the resolution to 4K for truly epic detail.
    And more importantly, the quality of satellites in space has improved.
    Both Japan and EUMETSAT launched new satellites last year that have higher resolutions than their predecessors. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to launch a new high resolution geostationary satellite this year, adding even more detailed coverage of the planet.
    That’s good news if you want an even sharper 4K experience or improved forecasts.
    And if you want both, well, then life is really good.

    Links :

    Saturday, February 6, 2016

    A plastic ocean

    A Plastic Ocean is an adventure documentary shot on more than 20 locations over the past 4 years. Explorers Craig Leeson and Tanya Streeter and a team of international scientists reveal the causes and consequences of plastic pollution and share solutions.



    This film directed by Emily V. Driscoll, is an award-winning short documentary that follows NYC sci-artist Mara G. Haseltine as she creates a sculpture to reveal a microscopic threat beneath the surface of the ocean.
    During a Tara Oceans expedition to study the health of the oceans, Haseltine finds an unsettling presence in samples of plankton she collected.
    The discovery inspires her to create a sculpture that shows that the microscopic ocean world affects all life on Earth.
    Watch Mara G. Haseltine's art film featuring her sculpture and opera singer Joseph Bartning: La Boheme- A Portrait of Our Oceans in Peril vimeo.com/128797284